Cinnamon and cassia

canela y casia II

The name cinnamon refers to the tropical evergreen tree as well as the bark that of extracted from the plant. Cinnamon spice is obtained by drying the central part or the bark and is marketed as quills or powder. The pro0duction of cinnamon is mostly limited to the wettest lowland areas of Southeast Asia. Cinnamon is cultivated up to an altitude of 500 metres above mean sea level where the mean temperature is 27 °C and annual rainfall is 2000-2400 mm.

Cinnamon as a spice dates back in Chinese writings to 2700 BC. Cinnamon is referred to in the Old Testament and in Sanskrit writings. In ancient Egypt, cinnamon was used medicinally, as a flavouring and in embalming.

A lot of confusion exists between cinnamon and cassia. While cinnamon and cassia are not precisely the same, they are closely related and the bark of the two is not all that different. Cassia is thick, hard and has a flavour that is extremely bitter and burning with somewhat of a bite in the after taste. Cassia has a double curl when it dries, meaning that this is a spiral of dried bark, a small bit of relatively straight bark, then the other long edge spiral in the opposite direction. Ground cassia has very reddish brown colour. True cinnamon has but a single spiral curl and is almost papery, brittle, easily crushed or powdered. Its flavour is more subdued, less bitter and has a decidedly sweet finish in the after taste.  Its smell is sweet and aromatic. The bark of cinnamon is pale yellowish brown.

The heat of grinding is very destructive to the volatile oil content cinnamon. Cryogenic grinding, however, does retain more volatiles and it is very good in the case of cinnamon.

A great proportion of the total usage of cinnamon and is for culinary purposes. It can be bought as whole sticks, used to flavour rice and meat dishes. Cinnamon being more delicate is mostly used in dessert dishes and the stronger flavour of cassia is preferred in chocolate manufacture by Germans.

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